Global Warming ‘Pause' Does Not Pause EPA's Regulatory Efforts
The global warming (or ‘climate change’) debate has heated up in the last several months, creating what may prove to be a break in the so-called consensus that man-made factors are the primary cause of global warming. Although global warming may have ‘paused’ over the last fifteen years and other causes have been suggested for warming trends, these recently released inconvenient truths have not stopped EPA’s zeal for regulation.
The United Kingdom’s Met Office recently released the latest global temperature data from the University of East Anglica Climatic Research Unit (which was involved several years ago in the ‘Climategate’ scandal). The data shows that the average temperature around the globe was the same in 2011 as it was in 1997. According to the Met Office, this data is in line with data from NASA and NOAA. Global Climate Models (complex computer models used to predict warming trends) suggest that warming should have increased. The Met Office itself states that the GCMs predicted that 2009 through 2014 would break the 1998 temperature record. Although the warmest years on record occurred within the 1997 – 2011 time frame and many claim the overall trend remains one of warming, the fact that the 1997 temperature is the same as the 2011 temperature suggests that the GCMs may not be as accurate as represented. At the very least, the new data suggests that factors other than man-made carbon dioxide emissions play a role in global warming.
Scientists have suggested several possible reasons for this ‘pause’ in warming. Professor Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that the water temperature cycles of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans play a key role. The Pacific cycle ‘flipped’ from warm to cool in 2008 and the Atlantic is likely to ‘flip’ in the next several years. Additionally, solar activity is increasingly thought to play a very important role in the Earth’s temperature. Solar output goes through eleven-year cycles, with high numbers of sunspots at their peaks. Over the past fifty years, solar activity has been high. However, the peak of the current cycle (Cycle 24) has seen less than the number of sunspots as those seen during cycle peaks in the Twentieth Century. The next cycle (Cycle 25) is predicted to be weaker still. Some claim that the upcoming cycles will be weaker than historic minimums in solar activity, such as the one that occurred during the coldest part of the Little Ice Age. The Met Office counters this claim by stating that despite weaker solar activity, global warming will continue as the impact of the sun is less than the impact of man-made carbon dioxide emissions.
Although factors other than man-made carbon dioxide emissions seem to play important roles in global temperature, EPA continues to move forward with controls of industrial and commercial emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). Since its 2009 ‘endangerment finding’ which provided the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate GHG, EPA has required reports on GHG emissions (the GHG Reporting Program) and required permits for emissions of GHGs over a certain amount (the GHG Tailoring Rule). But, the EPA has not stopped there. After establishing GHG reduction standards for light-duty vehicles in model years 2012 - 2016, it has proposed standards for model years 2017 – 2025. EPA proposed GHG reduction standards for refineries and fossil fuel-fired power plants and plans to issue final standards in 2012.
EPA seems to be unconvinced that there may be other potential causes of global warming and seems to be moving forward with its GHG regulatory agenda. It would seem prudent, though, to investigate and acknowledge other causes prior to creating, imposing, and adding to such a broad and encompassing regulatory regime.
John B. King is a partner with Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P., in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His practice relates mainly to environmental regulatory permitting and compliance. Prior to joining the firm in 2003, he served as Chief Attorney for Enforcement for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.